It's time for a shake-up at the Secretary of State's Office.
Pete Peterson, executive director of Pepperdine University's Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Participation, can provide fresh leadership and solid experience in the skills needed to update this pathetically ineffective office. We recommend him.
Few elected officials have promised so much and delivered so little as Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who is termed out.
She won the office as a champion of technology to increase public access to government. Soon after taking office she decertified California's touch screen voting equipment because of legitimate security concerns, and then she -- did nothing. Or next to it.
She failed to advance technology in the elections operation. She failed to develop standards for electronic balloting systems and left many county registrars in the lurch with equipment they could not use or update. The office's public database for tracking campaign contributions lags a decade behind today's Internet capabilities, and that's inexcusable.
Meanwhile, voter turnout and registration rates are among the nation's lowest. Those are two of 17 indices that explain why California's election system has sunk to 49th among the 50 states and District of Columbia, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts analysis.
Both Peterson and his opponent, state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, would be better than Bowen. But Petersen presents an unusual opportunity. He's a breath of fresh air.
While registered Republican, he shows no signs of partisanship in his professional history or his campaign. As a consultant, he helps local officials use technology and the Internet to collaborate with constituents on policy decisions.
This work is devoid of political agenda, and it's exactly the skill set needed at the Secretary of State's Office. We must better engage citizens. Peterson is eloquent about improving access to voting and public information.
Padilla is a respected lawmaker and voices goals similar to Peterson's. His legislative experience might be helpful when changes or funding require lawmakers' approval. But that experience comes with liabilities. Bowen stepped from the state Senate to her current post, and it didn't help her succeed.
In addition, Padilla's campaign contributions suggest he's just another legislator who leverages his position financially to move up to the next office. That's particularly inappropriate for the secretary of state, who must rise above partisanship and special interests.
Peterson's lack of elective office experience won't hold him back for long. He's very articulate, and he'll approach the job as a professional, which is what's needed at this critical time. His energy, ideas and keen appreciation of the importance of public participation make him the superior candidate.